The National:

WARNINGS about a possible coup in Myanmar have been doing the rounds for days. But in a news media so currently dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the threat of a military takeover there is just one of many global stories sitting off the radar and not given the attention it deserves until it cannot be ignored.

The putsch carried out today saw Myanmar’s army declare a state of emergency and detain the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her top officials in early morning raids, seizing power from a government established only five years ago.

A video broadcast on military-owned television said power was handed to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, citing “huge irregularities” in November’s parliamentary election in which the military’s favoured party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), fared badly.

Two pressing questions surround the coup, the first is the timing and secondly the underlying reasons.

READ MORE: Myanmar coup: Military seizes control after detaining Aung San Suu Kyi

Regional observers explain away the timing of the power grab as related to the fact that today should have been the first session of parliament, which would have endorsed the election result.

As for the real underlying motives behind the army’s moves, analysts’ views are mixed. Where they do agree is that it’s important to recognise that relations between the military and government have long since been fraught.

The National: Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi (above) is hugely popular in Myanmar as the figurehead of a decades long struggle to end previous juntas, though she fell out of favour in Western countries over her complicity in the persecution and handling of an exodus of Rohingya refugees fleeing an army crackdown in 2017.

Ever since then Suu Kyi’s relations have meant her walking something of a political tightrope with the army in a country where the constitution guarantees the military a quarter of all seats in parliament and control of the country's most powerful ministries. But there are other factors worth considering in this latest power shift within the country that could involve outside players, notably China.

In curious timing, it was only last month that the Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, met Senior General Min Aung Hlaing during a visit to Myanmar.

Despite continuing anti-Chinese sentiment among many in Myanmar society, China has long played an important role there, standing by the country during its previous time as a military dictatorship, but also working closely with Suu Kyi when she became leader.

Beijing has substantial oil and gas interests in Myanmar, and as the largest trading partner and second largest foreign direct investment (FDI) source for the country, China will doubtless want to have considerable say over continued economic growth.

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With initiatives like the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor aimed at further connecting the two countries and the opening up of the Chinese market, Beijing is doubtless also taking a considerable interest in Myanmar’s future political trajectory.

The two countries have other close connections too. China’s communist leadership has always been Myanmar’s strongest supporter on the Rohingya issue. The persecution of the Muslim minority has angered the West and Beijing has often helped protect Myanmar over allegations of genocide at international institutional level.

Likewise, Myanmar in return has supported China at the United Nations on Xinjiang against criticism that China is persecuting the Uighur ethnic minority and over Beijing’s action in Hong Kong. In short both countries have intimate relations at a military and diplomatic level.

The National: Xi Jinping is arriving for a four-day state visit hailed by David Cameron as a symbol of the "golden era" in relations with China

It is almost exactly a year ago now that Chinese President Xi Jinping (above) made his first state visit to Myanmar. Today in what will be one of the first major tests of US foreign policy, the administration of President Joe Biden expressed America’s “grave concern and alarm,” over the coup in Myanmar.

China by contrast merely “noted” the coup, its diplomats refusing to discuss whether Beijing’s senior diplomat Wang Yi discussed or warned against it when he met the man now in power in Myanmar, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

What happens following the coup is too early to call, though a country awash with weapons, a ruthless military and a population sick and tired of authoritarian rule does not bode well, say observers.

One thing certain however is that China will be watching political developments closely and will doubtless help bring its influence and pressure to bear, though it might just have already done so.